In an unusual move, the state Legislature is only two votes away from ending the decades-long debate over fluoridation.
Although fluoridation has been a hotly debated issue since the 1950s, Senate Bill 1038, SD1, which would ban additives in Hawaii’s drinking water, has quietly and quickly passed the Senate and a House committee this month.
The bill with a vague title was heard by the Legislature’s two water committees but not the key health panels and requires no other public hearings.
All it needs is two affirmative floor votes from the 51-member House, and then it goes directly to Gov. Linda Lingle for consideration.
“Basically, we’re saying: ‘Don’t tamper with Hawaii’s water. It’s pure, it’s healthy and leave it alone,'” said state Rep. Cynthia Thielen (R, Kailua-Kaneohe).
“And that’s what the bill said on its fast track to the governor,” said Thielen, a member of the House Water, Land and Hawaiian Affairs Committee, which approved the measure on Tuesday.
State Sen. Les Ihara Jr. (D, Kahala-Palolo), who has spoken out in the past about good government practices and ethics, said the bill “kind of popped out” on the legislative fast track.
He said it should have been reviewed by both Health committees, given the controversial subject, and it is unfair to those respective chairmen — and the public — that it was not.
“The democratic process is designed and meant to be fair, and the unfairness of it affects the level of confidence people have in the process,” Ihara said yesterday.
“They can’t trust the process. If they can’t trust they’ll be dealt with fairly, then that damages the image and the level of trust for the institution,” he said.
Ihara was the only one to vote with reservations on Feb. 13 when all 25 senators agreed to send the bill to the House.
Advocates say adding fluoride to the water supply would improve the dental hygiene of Hawaii’s children, who have one of the nation’s highest rates of tooth decay. Hawaii is among 10 states where less than half of residents drink fluoridated water.
The bill, titled “Relating to Water Supply,” states no person shall place additives into the public water supply to “treat or affect the physical or mental functions of the body of any person, rather than to make water safe or potable.”
Federally operated water systems, like those on military bases, are exempt from this bill.
While the measure may have slipped by fluoridation advocates, opponents have submitted ample testimony specifically praising it for ending the fluoridation push once and for all. And many lawmakers agree with them.
Senate Water, Land and Agriculture Chairwoman Lorraine Inouye (D, Hilo-Honokaa), in her committee report, said the bill would “free Hawaii from periodic threats of mandatory community fluoridation, which have been occurring since the 1950s.”
State Sen. Sam Slom (R, Diamond Head-Hawaii Kai), who introduced the measure, said there have been increasing proposals to put things in the public water supply, and his intention was to put an end to all of them, not just fluoridation.
Senate Health Chairwoman Rosalyn Baker (D, Honokohau-Makena) said she probably would not have heard the bill if it was sent to her committee. She acknowledged it is a divisive issue and believes the counties should decide it since they are the ones that control the water supply.
House Health Chairman Dennis Arakaki (D, Kalihi Valley), who had advocated for fluoridation in the past, said the Legislature should not preclude itself from considering it in the future.
Arakaki said he would have appreciated the measure being assigned to his committee and is uncertain of what he will do when it comes up for a vote on the House floor.
House Vice Speaker Sylvia Luke (D, Dowsett Highlands-Punchbowl) explained yesterday the bill was sent to only one committee because it is House majority policy to assign crossover bills to the same subject committees that heard it in the Senate.
It is the responsibility of committee chairmen like Arakaki to “catch these things” and ask these bills be assigned to their committees, she said.